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Once kids are in the picture dinner parties become a thing of the past, or should I say civilised dinner parties become a thing of the past!  Now we opt for dinner with friends that everyone can take part in – including the kids! Over the summer we had a couple of pizza nights – having made the dough and sauce – everyone makes up their own pizzas with whatever toppings they fancy. James and I have developed a good system – I prepare the dough and James rolls it out. Works great, and I have to say that they taste so much better then store bought versions. Maybe part of that is the taste of satisfaction when you are feeling all Nigella like for having prepared everything from scratch! I expected it all to be more complicated but it is simple! Make sure you buy a pizza stone – definitely worth it.

This weekend our good buddies the Rhule’s (Jon, Justine & Easton) came over for a spot of face painting and pizza making. All done just in time to settle down in front of X Factor!

A couple of very funny Clowns!!

A couple of very funny Clowns!!

Could there be a cook book more appropriate than ‘Jamie’s Italy’ to turn to in search of a recipe for pizza dough??

Basic Pizza dough (courtesy of Jamie Oliver – Jamie’s Italy)

Ingredients:-

800g strong white bread flour

200g fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour

1 level Tbsp fine sea salt

2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast

1 Tbsp golden caster sugar

around 650ml / just over 1 pint lukewarm water

Pile the flours and salt on to a clean surface and make an 18cm well in the centre. Add your yeast and sugar to the tepid water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well (or just chuck it all in the electric mixer like I do!). Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat into a ball. Knead the dough by rolling it backwards and forwards, using your left hand to stretch the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes until you have a smooth springy soft dough.

Flour the top of the dough, cover it with clingfilm and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll it thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas i.e. lots of small ones or a few larger ones, but 6 is a good quantity for the dough.

Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough in clingfilm in the fridge. Take a piece of dough, dust your surface and the dough with a little flour, and roll it out into a rough circle about 1/2 cm thick. Tear off an approximately sized piece of tin foil and rub it with olive oil, dust it well with flour and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with another piece and then if you dust with a little flour you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with clingfilm and put them in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 250C. At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember, less is more. If you can, cook the pizza’s on a piece of granite in a conventional oven, if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf towards the bottom of the oven. (If you are going to cook your pizza’s on the bars of the oven, make sure they are not too big – otherwise they will be difficult to manoeuvre). Cook for 7-10 mins until the pizza’s are golden and crispy.

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Family fun

I like to put out a variety of toppings and let everyone just go for it. Some suggestions are:-

Salami, Pepperoni, Chorizo, Ham, Chicken, Turkey, Anchovies

Courgettes, Corn, Pine nuts, Mushrooms, Peppers, Tomatoes, Red Onion, Pineapple, Olives, Capers, Jalapeno, Chilli

Grated Mozzarella, Goats Cheese, Brie, Blue Cheese…..basically any sort of cheese

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Justine's turn...the vegetarian version!

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Jon's up...

Try not to overload too much – I like a good selection but just little bits of this and that. If you overload it the base can go a bit soggy. Being proper pizza rather than a pan base they are not as sturdy for huge amounts of topping.

Of course, a good pizza needs a good tomato sauce……

Tomato Sauce (a la Jamie of course)

Note: I double up on this and find it makes the right amount for 6 pizzas. Always better to have too much than not enough plus you can always throw leftovers in the freezer .

Ingredients:-

Extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

bunch of fresh bail, leaves picked

1 x 400g of good quality plum tomatoes

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Heat a saucepan, add a splash of oil and the sliced garlic and cook gently. When the garlic has turned light golden, add half the basil, the tomatoes and a few pinches of S & P. Cook gently for about 20 minutes, mashing the tomatoes until smooth, then taste, season again and put to one side.

There is a small mystery to Jamie’s recipe….where does the rest of the basil go???

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Meredith & Isobel were hanging out with us this afternoon and it got to that time on Sunday that we needed to star thinking about dinner – always early on a Sunday due to shorter trading hours. As Mer was needing to do exactly the same as me – shop & cook – it made sense to do it together. A quick trip to the supermarket later we were in possession of a chicken and a medley of veg. It was a win win situation – half the grocery bill and great company while preparing together.

Mer had also picked up a Graffiti Cauliflower on the way over this morning – this was completely new to me as never seen or heard of it before. What a beautiful sight it is – vibrant purple. Much much more interesting than the usual boring white cauliflower! We decided to make this into a cauliflower cheese which I haven’t had in years.  Once the cauliflower had been simmered for 8 minutes the water was bright blue.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Apart from the Cauliflower Cheese there was no recipe to follow – just some Lemon stuffed into the chicken with some garlic and rosemary, chopped up butternut squash, carrots & parsnips and a drizzling of oilve oil….oh and a sprinkle of S & P.

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Once everything was cooked we split everything in half and Mer & Isobel headed home to Stu with dinner in tow. Worked really well as was the perfect  amount of chicken & veg – no leftovers in this house!

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One of my best friends, Vicki recently got married and I could not be happier for her. She is gorgeous inside and out and she has found real happiness with her own Prince Charming, Peter. Unfortunately the real down side of living on the other side of the world has been missing the weddings of so many of our friends and family. I really wish we could have been there. We have not met Peter and it’s very strange to think of one of my best mates marrying someone I haven’t met but I do know one thing for sure – if Vicks said Yes then he is a fantastic guy and perfect for her!

Have you ever seen a more beautiful bride? Looks like an amazing day!

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The very happy couple - Vicki & Peter

Stunning!

Stunning!

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So in honour of my dear friend and her new hubby I wanted to post this beautiful recipe for Wedding Cake.

Wedding Cake (courtesy of Mrs Dorothy Brand – The 40th Anniversary Cookbook – The Rotary Club of Inverurie)

Ingredients:-

4 lbs Love

1/2 lb Good Looks

2 lbs Self-Forgetfulness

2 tablespoons of Sweet Argument

1/2 wine glass of Commonsense

1/2 lb Buttered Youth

1/2 lb Sweet Temper

1/2 lb Powdered Wit

1/2 lb Dry Humour

1/2 lb Rippling Laughter

Put the flour of love, good looks and sweet temper into a well-furnished house, beat the buttered youth to a cream.

Mix together the blindness of faults, self-forgetfulness, powdered wits, good humour into a sweet argument.

Then add them all to love and pour in gently rippling laughter and commonsense.

Work together until all is well mixed and bake forever.

Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Inverurie, Scotland

Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Inverurie, Scotland

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Aunty Amy came to visit us on Saturday and to give Izzy her first lesson in modern Japanese culture. After Amy’s recent jaunt to Tokyo she bought back a stuffed toy for Izzy called Tortoro and the English version of the DVD movie – My neighbour Tortoro. It was so sweet watching the 2 of them sit on the sofa and watch the movie together – which is so typically Japanese – it even managed to hold her full attention for at least 30 mins! Thanks Aunty Amy!!

Having an extra person in the house is also a good reason to cook a yummy meal and with time to spare on a Saturday we decided to go all the way and make 3 courses. I suggested just 2 but as Amy pointed out – ‘there is always room for pudding’!

The first course was pretty simple – Bruschetta. No recipe to follow as is pretty simple. I sliced up some ciabatta and placed it on the griddle until it was brown and then turned over. In the meantime I chopped tomatoes and basil and mixed this with some red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of S & P. Once bread is nice and crisp then take off, rub both sides with a clove of garlic and drizzle with some good olive oil. I used some that I had flavoured a couple of weeks ago by just adding fresh basil and then leaving for a couple of weeks before decanting into a clean glass bottle. After the olive oil add the tomato & basil mix  and serve. Scrummy!!

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The King was back in the kitchen for the main course – Pumpkin Risotto. Sorry if you are bored of Pumpkin but there will be more to come….the pumpkin season is such a small window that we have to make the most of it! As always it was fab – James has truly mastered this dish.

Pumpkin Risotto (courtesy of Gennaro Contaldo – Italian Year)

Ingredients:-

150ml olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed, but left whole

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 sprig of rosemary

350g arborio rice

1 glass of white wine

1kg pumpkin (clean weight), cut into very small cubes

about 1.5 litres hot vegetable stock

50g butter

100g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Place the stock in a saucepan on a low heat and simmer gently.

In another saucepan, heat the olive oil and sweat the onion, garlic, celery and rosemary until the vegetables soften. Remove the garlic and discard.

Add the rice, stirring well and making sure each grain of rice is coated in the oil. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate, stirring all the time.

Add the pumpkin cubes, together with a ladleful of stock & stir. As the liquid evaporates, stir in another ladleful of stock. Continue to do this for 20 minutes. remove from the heat, stir in the butter and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Classy dinner in front of the telly! Oh well it's Saturday and X Factor is on!!

Classy dinner in front of the telly! Oh well it's Saturday and X Factor is on!!

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So for pudding we originally heading towards Banoffee Pie given that there were a couple of bananas in the bowl that only had about a day left in them. That was a great idea until I actually read the recipe and the base needs to go into the fridge overnight! Then there is the tin of condensed milk in the saucepan (in order to make the toffee) which my friend Tarns had a bad accident with so all signs were pointing away from the Banoffee Pie.

This week I received from my dear friends at Amazon (we better be friends with the amount I have spent with them over the years ;-)) the new Rachel Allen book – ‘Home Cooking’. For me Rachel Allen is running a very close 2nd to Jamie Oliver and ‘Home Cooking’ is my kind of book. Full of vibrant, fresh and delicious recipes that are aimed at, funnily enough, the home cook. A worthy addition to any cookbook collection!! So I flicked through my newest acquisition and came across a recipe for Rhubarb & Ginger Bread & Butter Pudding. Never made a B & B pudding before and I have 460g chopped rhubarb in the freezer (from our first PYO of the season) and the recipe calls for 450g….must be a sign! I didn’t have great expectations as I don’t really recall ever having B & B pudding although I am sure I must have at some stage but I do recall that my Dad is not a fan. However I think even Marty would like this one especially as it is made with rhubarb which is one of his favourites.  Amy was right…..there is always room for pudding!!

Rhubarb & Ginger Bread and Butter pudding (courtesy of Rachel Allen – Home Cooking)

Ingredients:-

450g rhubarb, cut into 1 cm slices

2 tsp finely grated root ginger

150g caster sugar

50g butter, softened

12 slices of white bread, crusts removed

350ml single or regular cream

350ml milk

2 tsp finely grated root ginger

4 eggs

pinch of salt

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

Icing sugar, for dusting

25cm square ovenproof dish or similar-sized dish

Scatter the rhubarb in a baking dish and sprinkle with the grated ginger and half the caster sugar. Toss together and then leave to sit for about 30 mins to soften a little.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the bread and arrange four slices, buttered side down, in the ovenproof dish. Scatter over half of the prepared rhubarb and top  with four more slices of bread, again buttered side down. Repeat with the remaining rhubarb mixture and bread.

Place the cream, milk and grated ginger in a saucepan an bring just to the boil. While this is coming to the boil, whisk the eggs, salt and remaining caster sugar in a bowl. Continuing to whisk, pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture until well mixed. Slowly pour this custard over the bread and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the top (oops forgot to do this!).

Place the dish into a deep-sided baking tray and pour in enough boiling water to come half way up the sides (known as a bain-marie). Carefully place in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes, or until it feels just set in the centre. Remove from the oven and serve warm with a light dusting of icing sugar (forgot this too!) and some softly whipped cream.

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Straight out of the oven

This post would not be complete without mentioning the X Factor – for the first time I am hooked! My faves are Stacey (how can you not love her – so funny and beautiful voice) and Jamie (go the Fro!!), but those twins…gggrrrr……they are the most annoying act I have ever seen and they need to go….NOW!! Don’t vote John& Edward!!!

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Woke up this morning to the news of the Tsunami & earthquake that has rocked Samoa. It’s just so sad – these things always happen to people who have the least (in a material sense) and therefore have the most to lose. My parents have been visiting Samoa over the last couple of years and are full of praise for the Samoan people – so friendly and hospitable. My first thought was for their friends and so sent a quick text to Mum. Luckily they live in the hills and so were safe. I picked up the paper on the way home tonight and my stomach lurched when I saw the headline about the 2 year old boy who was swept away from his parents – makes me feel so sick. What a cruel world this can be sometimes. My thoughts are with his family and with all those in Samoa who have lost loved ones or are now suffering the anxiety of missing loved ones. I can’t even begin to imagine.

It’s been a busy few days with quarter end (as anyone who works in financial services knows) and I am pleased that another quarter is over! Time to start on the next one!!! So this is the first time I have had a chance to sit down and catch you up on our most recent culinary experiences – but know that I have left off some not so successful dishes!!!

A year or so ago our friend Kerry shared this recipe with us. Is a lasagne that substitutes pumpkin & courgettes for pasta (great for those who are doing the whole wheat free thing). We have made it lots of times now and it has the comfort factor without the stodge feeling. I just think it works really well and is another great way to add veges to a dish for kids. We all enjoy this and I like to serve it with a salad (made up with whatever is handy at the time!). It also works made ahead of time as I made this up on Sunday, put in the fridge and then heated it up on Tuesday.

Mince & Pumpkin Lasagne

Ingredients:-

500g mince beef

400g pumpkin, thinly sliced

400g tinned diced tomatoes

1 cup or more of grated mozzarella cheese

200g courgette (or zucchini – depending on where you are), thinly sliced

100g onion, diced

Handful of pumpkin seeds

1/8 cup oregano

1/8 cup parsley

1 clove of garlic, peeled & crushed

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 180C. Fry mince in a little oilve oil until browned, add herbs, onion & capsicum (or pepper – once again depending on where you are, but I forgot to put this in anyway!!). Fry until tender, add tomatoes and simmer until thick.

In a greased lasagne dish place a layer of pumpkin slices and cover with half of the mince mixture.

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Place a layer of zucchini on top and add half the cheese. Then cover with the remaining mince mixture and top with left over cheese and pumpkin seeds.

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Bake in oven for 40 mins. Serves 6-8.

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This week I had a great email from Mum with this recipe which comes highly recommended so thought I would share it with you. According to Marty (AKA Dad) they are ‘Outstanding’ – high praise indeed!!

Pea & Caper Fishcakes

Ingredients:-

500g snapper fillets, finely diced  ( I used Gurnard )
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 Tbsp baby salted capers, rinsed
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
Lemon wedges, to serve

Put the fish, peas, capers, lemon rind, mustard, egg and flour in a
large bowl and stir until well combined. Divide the mixture into 8 equal
portions, then shape each portion into a patty.

Heat a barbecue hotplate ( I just did them in a sauté pan with a
little olive oil ) to medium heat and spread oil over the plate. Add fish
cakes and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden and cooked
through. Serve with lemon wedges.

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These are very yummy….. I served them with Feta, Beetroot and Red
Onion Salad and Fresh Asparagus

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Looks great Mum – this will be on the menu for next week 🙂

Fish Cakes on Foodista

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Well it has been a few weeks now since I have been in the kitchen, slack I know!!  James, Izzy & I have been in Scotland for the last 10 days where we have enjoyed some R & R and hospitality courtesy of Robert & Laura. It was a very relaxed break and we just tiki-toured around the gorgeous countryside and spent the time between Aberdeen and the seaside town of Nairn. It was great to spend time with R & L and  also James’ cousin Gillian and her family and for Izzy to have the opportunity to spend time with her Scottish rellies.

The Wright's at Loch Ness

The Wright's at Loch Ness

On our final night in Aberdeen I took over Auntie Laura’s kitchen (and boy, did I make a mess – luckily I had a couple of sous chef’s on hand to clear up!). Laura took on the starter and what could be more Scottish than Haggis, Neeps & Tatties with a whisky sauce. Since my first taste of Haggis, quite a few years ago now, I have been a fan. I think the secret is not to think about what it actually is – yum!

Auntie Laura's starter - delicious!!

Auntie Laura's starter - delicious!!

The main course was Roast Beef with various accompaniements. It was sort of successful. James and I decided a while back that this winter is going to bring with it the challenge of mastering the Roast Dinner. There is some work to do. On this occasion I referred to Gordon Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch. My first mistake was not taking into account the fan oven and therefore cooking it too quick on the outside and a bit rare on the inside. Gordon’s recipe also calls for a Red Wine gravy and to be honest it was a bit of a palaver and not worth the effort. There was so much liquid it would have been the next night before it reduced to anything particularly gravy like – so we renamed it a red wine jous…..

My big success was the Yorkshire pudding – a first attempt too. Instead of individual ones I made one large one and it turned out fab. Gordon’s recipe below.

Yorkshire Puddings (courtesy of Gordon Ramsay – ‘Sunday Lunch’)

Ingredients:-

225g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs, beaten

300ml milk

about 4 tbsp vegetable oil

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs and half the milk and beat until smooth. Mix in the remaining milk and leave the batter to rest.

Once beef is cooked and resting increase the oven to 230C. Put 1 tsp oil into each section of a 12 hole tray and put into the oven on the top shelf until very hot (almost smoking).

Whisk batter again. As soon as you take tray from the oven, ladle in the batter to 3/4 fill the tins (it should sizzle) and immediately put back in the oven. Bake for 15-20 mins until the Yorkshire puddings are well risen, golden brown and crisp. Don’t open the oven door until the end or they might collapse.

Success!

Success!

Finally the main was served. Really need to work on my timings – thank goodness for Laura’s hostess trolley!

Slàinte mhath (for non-Gaelic speakers 'Cheers')

Slàinte mhath (for non-Gaelic speakers 'Cheers')

It was getting late and we still had dessert to eat. Luckily I had it all prepared earlier and it was easy peasy! Gordon provides a good crumble recipe and it can easily be adapted with whatever fruits are in season. I don’t use the word ‘adapt’ often as I am strict recipe follower!

Strawberry, Peach & Ginger Crumble (courtesy of Gordon Ramsay – ‘Sunday Food’)

Ingredients:-

3 ripe peaches

300g strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped

2 Tbsp sugar

Crumble:

50g toasted hazelnuts

70g plain flour

pinch of ground cinnamon

25g cold butter, cut into small pieces

50g demerara sugar

(Strangely the recipe also calls for 2 tbsp caster sugar in the crumble – but no instruction when to add this??)

Heat the oven to 200C. Halve, stone and roughly dice the peaches, then put them into a dry non-stick pan with the strawberries, ginger, sugar and 2 tbsp water. Cook over a high heat for 2 mins until the fruit is slightly softened but not mushy. Tip into a bowl and allow to cool.

For the crumble, lightly crush the hazelnuts in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin. In a large mixing bowl, stir together with the flour and cinnamon. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir through the crushed hazelnuts and demerara sugar.

Spoon the softened fruit into four wide ramekins or individual baking dishes (I used one large bowl but as it was quite deep the fruit spilled over some of the crumble so best wide and not too deep). Top with the crumble mixture, scattering it evenly, and stand the dishes on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 mins until the topping is golden brown and crisp.

Leave the crumble to stand for a few minutes before serving, with cream or creme anglaise (although I prefer vanilla ice cream!).

This could definitely become a family favourite – easy – tick, tasty – tick, easy to experiment with – tick….

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